It would have been quite a sight…a young nun dressed in a brown habit driving her fellow Sisters of St Joseph around the streets of Adelaide in the 1950s.
And it would have been more surprising to know that inside the car both the driver and passengers were reciting the Rosary, as was expected of them at that time.
Pushing her veil back to improve visibility, Sr Joan Mangan rsj would stop at busy intersections and try to continue praying – while avoiding a collision!
With only a written test required to obtain a licence back then, the extent of her driving lessons included a crash course during the school holidays with the gardener at the Sisters’ property at Cowandillla.
The first car Sr Joan drove was a Packard. It had three bench seats so held quite a number of Sisters. Later the Packard was replaced with a Kombi van which comfortably and conveniently seated more Sisters. On one occasion as Sr Joan pulled up at a school she heard a couple of young lads refer to them as a “nunnery on wheels”.
As the first Josephite in Adelaide to learn to drive, 26-year-old Sr Joan had a big responsibility to transport Sisters safely to the various schools where they taught.
Her driving duties also included negotiating the steep and winding road, including the “Devil’s Elbow”, to the Josephite convent and school at Aldgate. Often on weekends she would be called upon to drive Sisters to other convents or to appointments. On these occasions Sr Joan took some of the students’ written work to correct or she would plan lessons for the following week while she waited to take the Sisters back to the convent. Sr Joan said she always carried plenty of books in the boot of the car.
One of six children born to May and Ray Mangan, Sr Joan grew up in Cheltenham and was educated by the Josephites at Mount Carmel School, Alberton.
“It was a very happy home and a family that shared and enjoyed each other’s company,” she said.
“I have wonderful memories of us playing in the backyard, singing together around the piano and every evening praying together.
“It was a home where my faith was developed firstly by the example of my parents, and secondly at school by the Sisters, who also made a great impression on me.”
For these reasons, on February 2 1945 she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph at Kensington and then went to the novitiate in Sydney. After making her profession with 27 other young Sisters, she returned to South Australia in January 1947.
Her first teaching position was at Williams Street, Norwood, heralding the start of a 34-year career at various Josephite schools, including 23 years as a principal.
Sr Joan recalled her early days in the convent as being difficult at times but added that it was “a happy life” and she enjoyed being with other young women.
“I think the hardest part was adhering to the timetable,” she said. “We would be in the middle of something and then it was time to go to the chapel to pray together.”
Long periods away from her family and wearing the heavy brown habit in summer were other challenges. She welcomed the introduction of a lighter, white habit and the gradual change to casual clothing.
The reforms that flowed from Vatican II also brought a greater focus on individual prayer and a shift away from the monastic lifestyle that had crept into the Congregation.
While Sr Joan’s driving ability kept her in the city much of her life, she spent four years on the Waikerie Motor Mission which involved providing religious instruction to children in small towns where there was no Catholic school.
After retiring from teaching, she used her skills in administration at the Aldgate Conference Centre for five years and the Flora McDonald Nursing Home for three years, and was a parish worker at St Peter’s parish for nine years.
Sr Joan continued to drive until she was 92 and it was only last year that she moved from a unit at Cowandilla to the convent at Kensington.
Now back at Kensington where her religious vocation began, she said it was a “great privilege to live in this convent where our foundress,
St Mary MacKillop, lived with many of the pioneering Sisters”.
“I am so grateful that Mary MacKillop and the early Sisters were such strong and committed women, despite the many hardships they encountered,” she added.
“Living in this convent I am very conscious of, and get a very strong feeling that, we are ‘standing on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before us’ and benefitting greatly from their committed love of the Congregation.”
The anniversary of Sr Joan’s profession was on January 6 but she celebrated with other Josephite jubilarians at a Mass in St Ignatius’ Church, Norwood, on March 19.Jump to next article